Promotion on powder
Matthews ticketed for “A team” moguls after breakthrough win
When Summit County freestyle moguls skier Mikaela Matthews captured her first World Cup win in seven years on the U.S. Ski Team last month in Ruka, Finland, there was more fueling her elation than the simple thrill of victory.
It meant she won’t have to pay to be on the U.S. Ski Team next season.
As a member of the “C team” this season, Matthews had to come up with $20,000 to offset her team travel expenses. Her win in Ruka on Dec. 12, the first World Cup moguls event of the season, qualified her for the “A team” next season, so she will be “fully funded” then.
“It’s definitely a huge relief,” said Matthews, who is from Frisco but trains out of Park City, Utah. “It solidifies my spot for next year, so no matter what happens the rest of this season I have an ‘A team’ spot next year, I have World Cup starts for next year, I have funding for next year. It’s security all around.”
Matthews was able to raise much of her $20,000 charge through two foundation grants, but her parents still had to pay “thousands of dollars” to the team.
“As a kid you have this ideal in your head, ‘If I just make the U.S. Ski Team, I’ve done it, I’m at the top of the top.’ But once you make the U.S. Ski Team, your battle’s almost just beginning,” said Matthews, 24. “You’re battling for ‘A team’ spots, for World Cup starts, for Olympic spots.”
Her victory was sweeter because of what she endured the past two seasons too. In 2013 she captured her first World Cup podium and made the world championships team, raising her hopes of making the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but a month before the Olympics she broke her right arm preparing for a World Cup in Lake Placid.
A description of what happened that day after she crashed on a jump isn’t for the squeamish.
“I came in pretty fast, I was a little on my heels for the flip and I over-rotated,” Matthews said. “I remember that feeling of falling out of the sky like, ‘My flip’s done and I still have a lot of room between me and the ground.’ I came around and my arm got twisted behind me weird. I felt it pop and I knew something was wrong. I remember sitting, kind of hunched over with my feet tucked up behind me. It felt like my arm was in my lap in front of me, like I was cradling my arm. I looked down and it was twisted back behind me.
“That’s when I started screaming, feeling like my arm wasn’t attached.”
Her humerus was broken into four pieces. Fixing it required a four-hour surgery involving a 9inch plate and 13 screws.
“Luckily I didn’t have any nerve damage,” Matthews said. “I had a shard of bone pressing into my radial nerve, which controls all of the function of your hand. I got really fortunate with that.”
Last winter was “rocky” for a couple of reasons. One was overcoming fear.
“That first training camp, I had quite a few mental breakdowns,” Matthews said. “I was like, ‘No, no, it’s too big, I’m going to over-rotate.’ I had that fear: ‘The last time I over-rotated I broke my arm really bad, I don’t want to do that again.’ ”
She also was intent on mastering a difficult new trick called a “back full,” a backflip with a full twist. She spent most of last season working on it with mixed results, but her hard work paid off: Only one other woman did a back full in Ruka competition.
“It’s the next step in progressing our sport,” Matthews said.
Because last week’s World Cup in Lake Placid was canceled for lack of snow, Ruka has been the only moguls event so far this season, but the tour resumes this weekend in Val St. Come, Quebec.
“I’m really looking forward to Val St. Come and hopefully carrying this momentum with me,” Matthews said. “I’m excited to compete in the yellow (tour leader’s) bib, I’ve never done that before. We’re all getting a little bit stir crazy. It’s been a really big break and we’re all anxious to get back in the gate.”
Mikaela Matthews had to pay $20,000 to compete this season as a “C team” member of the U.S. Ski Team. She will be a fully funded “A team” member next season. Bruce Bennett, Getty Images